Island of Hope

Servers paused mid-step while delivering food, patrons stopped eating, chatting and typing. The mental message stopped everyone in their tracks. Seconds after the voice finished speaking Charlie typed in the address one letter at a time. His clacking on the keyboard broke the silence in the small cafe. Immediately everyone else with a laptop or phone out began typing.

The website was a simple white page with a search bar and no other text. [Charles Smith] Charlie typed his name in the bar. He was surprised when his picture came up a long with a wall of text.

“Oh god, it’s real,” his nerves began to flutter. Despite the invasive thought from “God”, Charlie had his doubts. Those doubts disappeared when somehow the site showed him the right him. Charlie hated his common name. He was never, ever the only”Charlie Smith” at school, at work, even in his own family. Technically he was a “Jr.” but he assumed he could trip up the website. Instead, he found the picture of a middle-aged bald man with tired brown eyes. Strangers began to sob all around him as he began to read his stats.

[Charlie Smith – Age: 38. Currently single but still in love with Marissa Saenz.] Charlie stopped reading long enough to sigh at the truth, then continued. The rest of the summary was dead-on accurate and increasingly depressing. It briefly went over his childhood and college years and continued into his working life. It was peppered with random observations. [He won’t realize she was flirting until 8-27-19] was written under a mention of a girl he crushed on in college. He realized the coffee shop was silent again and looked up. Everyone, including the staff, was gone. He caught sight of a weeping worker walking out the door. The street outside was filled with people. A steady stream of pedestrians walked toward downtown. The bright sunlight revealed that most of them were crying.

“What does yours say?” a woman’s voice asked. Charlie jumped; he tilted the tall seat as a result. He was about to topple over when delicate, olive-skinned hands caught him and his chair. He looked and saw a woman with long sea-green curls flowing down her head and shoulders. A bright blue star with the number 35 was tattooed on her left cheek. She was dressed oddly; a navy blue business coat and a matching navy sarong wrapped around her waist.

“Thanks, sorry. I thought I was alone.” Charlie said as he straightened himself out. The woman nodded and smiled.

“You were. What’s it say?” she eyed the laptop. Charlie shrugged, he didn’t feel comfortable giving a stranger his life story; it was too disappointing.

“You know, the usual stuff. Childhood, school crushes and so on.” Isla smiled again but shook her head.

“Are you going to Hell?” she asked.

“Oh yeah!” His own photo surprised enough to put it out of his mind temporarily. Then, as he read his life he grew determined to change it. His mind ran off on self-improvement tangents. Now that she reminded him of the site’s purpose he started scanning through the text. At the bottom, he found what he was looking for.

[Afterlife Assignment: Hell*] followed by fine print. [*If you are not satisfied with your current assignment you have options to appeal your case. Visit our embassy downtown in your city for more information.]

“I’m going to Hell,” he whispered. “I gotta go appeal it!” he hopped off the tall seat but the woman stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.

“Wait, it’s not real,” she said. Charlie shook his head as he collected his laptop.

“There’s no way it’s not. There’re too many things there that no one else should know.”

“Yeah,” she said. “I mean, the information is real. But the website wasn’t made by God,” she said. Charlie tilted his head at her with a confused look.

“What? Then how did they know all that? How did they talk into everyone’s head?” He paused to wait for an answer, but he had another realization. “Does that mean I’m not going to hell?”

“You’re not going to Hell,” she answered his last question first. “How they talked into everyone’s head..” she shrugged. “There are half a dozen ways it could have been done; it’s not proof of anything. Knowing everything about you is as easy as going through your file. It’s Hell’s job to keep records and they’re really good at it.”

“So…,” Charlie stared at her trying to put everything together. “Someone that’s not God set up this website to tell people they’re going to Hell. To do it they looked at my personal file created in Hell?” The woman nodded, her aqua curls bobbed with the motion. “Why?” She shrugged.

“Hard to say. Whatever the reason, they need a lot of people,” she nodded at the flow of depressed pedestrians outside.

“Who are you? Why should I believe you over a voice in my head?” The woman laughed.

“You should never trust the voice in your head. Go to the site again and I’ll show you,” she said. Charlie gave a slight eye roll but lifted the lid of the laptop again. He woke it from sleep and found the website again. “Type my name in: Isla.” Charlie did and the woman’s picture appeared. She did not have a wall of depressing text as Charlie did. There were just two lines.

[Isla – Middleman] [Afterlife Assignment: Caseworker]

Charlie stared at the relatively empty sheet for a moment then turned to Isla.

“Caseworker?” he asked. She replied with a nod.

“I help people stay on track between lives.”

“And I’m not going to Hell?” he asked for confirmation again. She shook her head. “And all of them?” he waved his hand at the moving crowd outside. She shrugged.

“Odds are some of them are going, but not all of them.” Charlie sighed and sat down on a tall chair facing Isla. She waved a hand at the air and a tall, black portal opened next to her. It looked like a hole in reality. Charlie’s eyes widened. He was more or less out of “surprise” after all the unbelievable things that happened in the last 20 minutes. But the portal gave the woman another bit of credibility. Obviously, she knew how to do things Charlie could not explain.

“I believe you. I don’t know why, but I do. At least I’m going to heaven,” he said.

“Oh?” Isla asked with a curious smile.

“Well.. if I’m not going to Hell then it has to be Heaven.”

“Or…,” she smiled at him and stepped closer to the portal. “You can come with me,” she said and disappeared into the blackness.

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